Archive | April 2008

“You’ve got to find what you love”

I’m sure I’ve written on this speech one, two, or ten times already but for some reason it resurfaced this morning for me. I thought about it a little differently today. Steve pleads eloquently in the speech for us to blaze a path of passion in our lives:

Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

But this morning it hit me: I don’t really know what this looks like or certainly not what this feels like. I’ve heard “follow your passion,” in about a million different ways, but the truth is this notion is really abstract for me. It’s like someone telling me “be a billionaire.” I might have some image in my head of what that may look like, and perhaps some ideas of what it may feel like, but ultimately I know almost nothing about living like a billionaire. The same is true for me when I hear people say “follow your passion.” I don’t know what that means, what that looks like, or where that is. So how do you get directions when you don’t know where you are going?

You get lost. I really want so badly for someone to sit me down and say “go there, do this,” but unfortunately this won’t work. It wouldn’t work for anyone. It reminds me a lot of the story my mom told me about learning to ride my bike. I tried to learn at a very early age, and I was determined to get it very quickly. I didn’t want to screw around with the process, I just wanted to ride. So after an hour or so of falling, I lost it. I screamed at my mom to just “tell me how to balance.” I felt that learning to balance was something you could be told how to do, as if my mom was holding the secret over me for her own enjoyment. That obviously was not the case. You have to feel your own way, fall a few (dozen) times, until it clicks.

The same is true for “finding what you love.” You can’t follow a recipe for success (although there is an enormous industry built on the premise that you can). There is no “one size” fits all here. But there are themes. I think you can read about, meet with, learn from those who apparently have found their way. I’m really interested in talking with and meeting more people who have “found what they love.” I know they can’t tell me how to do it, but perhaps I can learn a few tricks of their trade. This isn’t some ancient secret hidden from us all, this is something real people are doing everyday. I’m going to find my way, I figure I just might have to fall a few (dozen) times. It can’t hurt to talk to some people who already have their balance.

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Dealing with bad news

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There was an article in the WSJ this morning about supporting loved ones when they find out they have cancer. I immediately had opinions on the article because I remember my own experience very clearly with my mom.  I remember cleaning out my college apartment when she called me to give me the news, and I think my immediate reaction was somewhat selfish.  I reacted in a way I thought was right for her, I put on the “you can do this, you can fight this,” hat.  I was so absorbed in reassuring myself that I was completely unaware of what my mom needed at that moment.  Now I certainly won’t beat myself up for that because it was a really difficult thing to go through, but I think the article brings awareness to an important issue: how to offer support in a way that works for the person with the difficult news, not in a way that works just for you.

From the WSJ article:

“Loved ones don’t know what to do, and they don’t want to make a terrible error,” says Marisa Weiss, an oncologist and founder of Breastcancer.org, a nonprofit organization. “This fear keeps people from doing anything.”

While that’s the worst mistake you can make, experts say, there are a number of other slip-ups. Well-meaning friends and family members often ask inappropriate questions, such as the patient’s prognosis. They offer theories on why their loved one got sick, give unsolicited advice or insist that “everything is going to be just fine.”

That was certainly the case for my mom.  She chose to deal with cancer in a manner that shocked and maybe even frustrated a lot of people: She didn’t want to talk about it.  She wanted to have life just go on, she wanted to more or less ignore its presence as much as possible.  And she wanted everyone around her to do the same.  She didn’t want to be a “sick person,” she just wanted to be her usual self.  She didn’t want to go to support groups, she didn’t want to have people call her out of the blue to offer words of encouragement, she just wanted to feel normal.  This approach included not fully knowing the details of her illness.  She chose instead for the doctors to treat her as they saw fit, but to keep her in the dark.  She not only wanted to feel normal, she wanted to maintain a very positive attitude.  This really drove people crazy.  Actually at times it even drove me crazy.  “How can you not know what you’re up against,” some people would say.  But that wasn’t their question to ask.  It was my mom’s.

From my experience, the best advice:

In general, experts say, you should take your lead from the person who is sick. If she wants to talk about her illness, then listen. Don’t be afraid of emotions. “Being there, listening and being supportive is a powerful role,” Dr. Weiss says. “If the person feels comfortable crying in front of you, be honored, because you fulfilled a really important need.”

I broke that bit of advice many times.  I once had a bunch of my mom’s friends send her letters of support. She was not happy about that to say the least.  I missed what was most important to her in her fight…the feeling of normal.  I struggled…how could she not want words of encouragement from so many that love her? Because normal life provided her the encouragement she wanted.  Extra attention from others made her feel sick, more vulnerable.  I didn’t understand then.  I do now.

In retrospect I hold a tremendous amount of respect for my mom’s approach.  It had to be SO hard to not know the details (especially for such an inquisitive person).  The unknown is a scary thing, especially when it relates to your health.  But there’s even more genius in her approach.  Not just because it allowed her to stay positive, and not just because it empowered her mind to think she was healthier than she actually was, but because it was ultimately HER way of dealing with it.  Not mine.  Not Tom’s.  Not her friends.  Hers.

Dealing with bad news is hard enough, offer support to someone as they need it, not how you think you would.

Scattered

Despite many attempts over the last few  years of my life it seems like I’m more easily distracted.  With growing reliance on my cell phone and email (and my email on my cell phone), it seems I have less and less moments where I’m really alone with my thoughts. Despite being aware of it, I generally respond immediately to the buzz of my Blackberry.  My gmail is open literally all day, even though I am well aware that email is the ultimate distraction.  Actually email may be my ultimate addiction.  I love my google reader.  I love my twitter.  Basically, I’m overstimulated.  Way overstimulated, to the point where I don’t really feel like anything I work on gets the time and attention it deserves.

I found this great blog post over at Information Arbitrage where he talks about the same thing (I feel the same way, except for the wife / kids part, I’m not quite there yet…):

If there is one thing I am, it’s overstimulated. Too many activities. Too many obligations. Too many e-mail. Too many social networks. Huge emphasis on my wife and two boys; coaching, playing, living, loving. Which leaves time for – recovery, maybe. Something has got to give. I love to read; I don’t read enough. I love to write; I don’t write enough. I love art; I don’t see enough of that, either. I love meeting interesting people; I do some of that but would enjoy spending more time with really cool people I can learn from. Bottom line: my attention is very broadly scattered and I hold it all together (most of the time), but I feel like I should be happier and more satisfied given my tremendous effort in all areas.

This, especially in tech savvy crowd, is very common.  I realized yesterday in my computer / email sabbath that during the week, I have less than 10 minutes a day in silence (and this 10 minutes is HARD..I’m working on it Jerry).  The rest of the time my brain is flooded with information.  Constantly.  WSJ, phone calls, blogs, phone calls, twitters, IM’s, occasional meetings, the occasional book and emails.  Lots and lots of emails.  Does any of this stuff actually do anything to improve my life, to move me closer to my life’s goals?  It don’t think so.  So how can get my brain / thoughts back?

I tried being more organized with my tasks and time.  I struggled. I felt like my todo list was more a running tally of stuff I thought I needed to do a few days ago. I tried the GTD system hoping for that zen like state of productivity and concentration, but realized that adding more systems to my life only meant more distractions.  I am still very reactive in my days.  Yes I set out with goals for each day, but unfortunately my email flow dictates what needs to be done most of the time.  I can’t help but react to the buzz of a new message.  Living this way (for me at least) seems to be the equivalent of running on the treadmill.  It burns my energy, it wears me down, but at the end of the day I didn’t get too far.

I need to make some changes.  I need to limit the email flow.  I need to set aside time, at least a little time each day, where I am allowed to just think (walking the dog is the perfect time for this).  I need to limit my google reader and twitter exposure to certain times of the day.  Bottom line: I need to set some boundaries for these many distractions.  I need to set my brain free again.  After my break yesterday, where my brain felt so clear, I know it is the right thing to do.  Perhaps the real secret to success in the information era is not to gather the most information, but to know how to shut it off.

(this post even felt scattered…sorry about that)